Do you ever need to let go of words, of directed thoughts, of endless tail-chasing, second second-guessing, self-doubt and criticisms? How about just wanting your brain to, eh-hem, STFU on occasion? I bet you do, and I do too. If you need a shoulder to cry on on that account, look no further! As an ESL teacher, word-nerd, bookworm, and lover of allusion and nuance, sometimes I need to just let the words go man. I usually circumvent my ultra-busy mind by doing something: painting, building, crocheting, organizing, replacing broken stuff in the car (just found out I still remember how to change a car battery, woo, with nothing but vice grips!). I also tend to use music as a way to direct my thoughts before my to-do list grows to the size of Pangea and I have a panic attack at the futility of life in general. Breathe, Kirsten, breathe. But with music, sometimes the lyrics are a little too pointed or directed, and I just want something looser. Even I can handle only so much Haken, Symphony X, Opeth, Tool and Leprous (plus my new obsession, Ihlo).
Thankfully, the Prog Gods hear our mortal pleas, and they send a plenitude of artists who produce nothing but instrumental masterpieces. Animals as Leaders got me there first (and The Joy of Motion is our 2-year-old daughter’s favorite album…), Cloudkicker and Derek Sherinian kept me going, but I keep coming back to one specific album from 2015 over and over. From ultra-heavy guitar riffs to technical, rhythmic sections to some of the most delicate and intricate classical piano pieces I’ve heard outside of actual classical music, this album delivers all. The deliciously named Pomegranate Tiger’s Boundless is a technical masterpiece that manages to put emotion into all its songs, a feat that many ultra-technical prog groups kind of miss… Indeed, the biggest disconnect between the hub’s tastes and my own are over the technical vs emotional aspect of music. He prefers one side, I’m a bit on the other.
Can you provide a great example of such emotional prowess, you ask? Why, certainly! The fourth song on the album, and my favorite, “The Masked Ball”, is great for this. It begins with ultra-heavy guitar and bass, as well as an infrequent clean ascending riff that set the mood like a boss: tense, predatory, poised to strike. A sudden pause and gradual rebuilding of volume and sound give you the feeling of one predator confronting and evaluating another. At the height of the encounter, the challenge and musical energy is resolved in a swirling dance of celebration and wildness. Yes, “The Masked Ball” feels like a ball, only filled with half-tiger guests. And they’re all balanced on the edge of civility; will there be blood shed, or shall the pressure of desire for dominance be danced away in fervor?
The musical pattern repeats several times, with heavy sections building tension between what feels like rivalries, followed by a melting or deference of that tension as the music again swirls, swept away in a choreographed dance. And then, at about 3:44 into the song, the tension begins another, more massive, assent; the truly dominant persona of the gathering has arrived and all retreat before their powerful and dangerous personality as they take their place at the head of the dance. Fear and the potential for challenge are almost tangible, yet again, the etiquette of the dance, the spirit of revelry and passion seem to crescendo and divert the energy and attention of all, and you’re swept back into the fast-tempo and joy of music. Fading out, beautiful piano chords echo the earlier theme now gentled, then segue into quiet contemplation as though you are moving away from the gathering into a quiet night of beauty and stars.
Very, very few pieces of music have given me such vivid images or sensations, and the entire album manages the same feat even as each song remains distinct from the others. “Paper Hammers” is by turns a piano and guitar piece of grandeur and poignant beauty, with arpeggios evoking sensations of light and air and water falling from the sky, and cool quiet rain on a warm spring morning. You may see sunlight and blue sky peeking through somewhere in the distance as a breeze blows the clouds overhead. And then, the day passes, sunset is a spectacle of colors and night falls like spears from the heavens and the stars blaze into light like beacons in a watchtower or lighthouses on a darkening sea. At least, that’s what I see.
Each song is a journey, with lucid landmarks of precise playing juxtaposed over an ethereal background of equally-precise yet emotive instrumentation. The lack of any lyrics means I can let my mind wander, yet the music is capable of holding me in a specific stream of thought without too much effort. It’s both engaging and soothing, something I love. The music isn’t “soothing” like waves on a beach – this is still prog metal, after all. The metal backbone is there throughout, but I sometimes fall asleep to Haken’s Vector (which is pretty heavy) and thus consider this relatively calm. So take that as a warning for those seeking meditation music. This isn’t that.
I love that the final song on the album, “Ovation” is another classic-feeling song with violins and cello taking up the refrain from “Manifesto”, the first song on the album and changing it to something else, something a little wistful and then sorrowful, but still glorious. Sunlight through dark pines, reflecting off the melting snow as spring begins to thaw the cold mountain peaks, and yet the wind and ice still reign, for a time. A glory of life.
It’s not a new release, but the quality is amazing. So if you like music that is hard and heavy, yet still evocative and beguilingly elegant, give Boundless a good listen through. This is another album worth some decent headphones and an hour without distractions. And tell me what you think of it!